August 31, 2015

Clogged Pipes by Brenda Leyland

I have come to the conclusion that writers don't actually experience writer's block as a result of running out of ideas. After all, how can we run out when we're connected to One who thinks wildly beyond what we can dream or imagine, and He's always happy to share his creativity with us.

So why do we find ourselves stuck or dry? One reason, I believe, is because we don't use the ideas we already have -- and when they aren't being used, they begin to harden -- clogging the pipes of our imagination like a backed-up kitchen drain.

From my personal experience, this seems to happen during the times when I haven't done much with the ideas I received last month, last week, or even yesterday. I'm thinking the idea man upstairs must scratch his head wondering why he bothers to send more when the old material is still in limbo.

Jotting down the ideas in a notebook, I'm sorry to say, is not putting them into action. That's just storing them up. And that's where, I believe, the clogging starts. New material can't come through until some of the old stuff moves on to its destination.

So, I've been asking the Lord to help me. I'm trying to implement in the present as much as possible. I am also learning that it doesn't have to be a large action -- bite size is perfectly okay. But it's important to work with the idea while it's still vibrant with possibility. Why do we think we got that particular idea or thought today? Perhaps it's because today is its moment to shine. Yesterday it wasn't quite ready, tomorrow it will be stale. Of course, we also understand some of our ideas are percolating for another season, but I do believe He gives us fresh material every day, for each new day, if we want it. And taking that one idea and doing something, anything, will keep things in the flow.

Now that you've read this, what is one idea you can work away at today? I'd love to hear about it.

Brenda Leyland enjoys writing on her slice-of-life blog at It's A Beautiful Life and continues to whittle away at various other writing projects.

August 30, 2015

From Pants to Patience by Susan Barclay

The Grand Canyon - photos don't do justice
Okay, I confess, I'm a pantser. What's that, you ask? Well, it's nothing less than a writer who shuns outlines and follows the story wherever it leads.

There are pros and cons to approaching writing this way. The pros? You don't have to have everything figured out right from the beginning. You can let the characters tell their own story, in their own way, acting in ways that come naturally to them. The creative juices can flow freely, without being bound to a plan. I'm sure there are more. The cons? You don't have everything figured out from the start. Characters can be bossy; they can direct things where they want them to go, even if their ideas are crazy and lead you to the middle of nowhere. Readers can buy anything as long as it makes sense, but what if it doesn't? And what if you have a good idea of your story's conclusion, but the story's taking you somewhere else?

That's sort of what happened to me a few years ago. The story was humming along nicely, I knew where it was going to end up, and all of a sudden I hit a wall. How did I get from where the story was to where it needed to be? It was like I'd hit a dead-end and couldn't figure out how to turn around, or like running into an unhelpful local who told me "you can't get there from here."

I set my novel aside and started working on other things. I wasn't happy about it, but what else could I do? The novel had come to a standstill and I needed to take a break from it until inspiration, hopefully, struck. I wrote personal experience stories instead and two were published in Chicken Soup books. I wrote poetry. Every once in a while I reflected on the larger oeuvre and wondered if I could move past the obstacle. Nothing came to me. Eventually I wrote the ending, thinking that might help. It didn't, though it was satisfying to see the conclusion wrap up nicely. Finally, I wondered if I needed to go to the place in which the last part of the story takes place - the Grand Canyon. It was a long way to go and would cost a fair bit of money, but it was worth it if I could move the story forward.

This spring I went, I witnessed, I worshiped. Felt chills up my spine as I looked over one of the world's seven wonders. It is indeed a grand canyon. I took lots of pictures, made some notes. Saw some other beautiful places while I was there, returned home.

So now you are wondering where my story is. I confess I haven't touched it since my trip. It's been a challenging year and I haven't had time to do much more than post blog entries, work on a new website, continue with shorter pieces. But I do feel that life will ease up a bit soon or I'll get better at self-care and I'll get back to the novel. I do feel that going to the GC was an important step in getting over the bump in the road.

I believe that writer's block is best overcome by working on other projects and/or doing more research on the current one - even if you're a pantser like me. What don't you know that you need to know in order to continue? Let ideas percolate in your mind as you take an active rest or do some homework. If the piece is meant to be completed it will be. In God's economy it's just a question of time and timing. In the meantime, be patient with the story and with yourself.


You can read more of my writing at

August 29, 2015

A Call to Prayer - Ruth L. Snyder

Have you ever wondered how your actions would be different if you could see activity in spiritual realms? The Bible gives us glimpses, like Satan's discussion with God about Job, Isaiah's vision of a seraphim who cleansed his unclean lips with a live coal, and Daniel's vision where the prince of the kingdom of Persia delayed the answer to his prayer by twenty-one days.

Sometimes it's easy to forget we are in a spiritual battle. However, the battle is real, whether we acknowledge it or not. Each time we as Christians write for the glory of God, we are engaging in battle. When we meet for fall conference so that we are better prepared and armed to write, we will face opposition.

Whether you are attending conference this year or not, I invite you to join the executive in prayer. Pray daily if possible. If God leads you to do so, set aside a day to fast and pray. Here are some ideas (based on ideas which Janet Sketchley "borrowed" from ACFW):

  • Promotion: that the message gets out to those who God wants to hear it
  • Enough volunteers to share the load
  • More than enough registrations to cover costs
  • Clear communication with speakers and workshop leaders
  • Registration process online to work properly
  • Fall Contest judges as they select winners
  • Sponsorships to cover some costs
  • God's Spirit to cover the Sawridge Inn and protect attendees from spiritual attacks
  • Keynote speakers: Jeff Goins, Caleb J. Seeling
  • Workshop instructors - preparation, clarity of thought, ability to explain well
  • Ruth L. Snyder (our fearless leader)
  • Conference Registrar: Gwen Mathieu
  • Bookstore preparation
  • Health and allergy protection, safety onsite
  • Divine appointments, making contacts and friends
  • Travel to/from safely and uninterrupted, belongings not to get misplaced
  • Good rest, adjustment to time zones, peace about (and protection for) families at home
  • Prayer times and worship sessions
  • Spiritual blessings and tangible presence of the Spirit
  • First-time attendees
  • Flow of creative ideas
  • Encouragement for each participant
  • For people who don't win awards or who get disappointing results from critiques or appointments
  • Banquet and celebration of Fall Contest participants
  • Launch of paperback edition of 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers
  • Blue pencil critiques
  • Sound equipment, projectors, laptops, recordings etc to work well
  • Practical learning for each participant
  • God's anointing on whole event
  • God to surprise us
  • Participants to go home equipped and encouraged 
  • Re-entry into the “real world”
  • Protection on each one’s spirit
  • Processing of what was learned
  • Following up on opportunities and contacts
  • Enthusiasm to apply what’s learned, even with winter coming on
  • Career plans, God's leading
  • Participants to feel "courageous in becoming word warriors - that they would have a greater sense of the contribution they can make in proclaiming truth through the written word
"Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31

August 28, 2015


To most people, a dictionary is just a book for providing proper spellings and definitions. For those who have creative imaginations, dictionaries can also be the source of interesting word associations. How can that be? Let me show you.

As I pondered the phrase "above reproach", I wondered what was above "reproach" in the dictionary. I grabbed my Webster's New World Portable Large Print Dictionary and saw that "reprisal" was directly above it on the page.

It seems to me that an interesting story could be developed from that juxtaposition. Could a character repay somebody's wicked deed in a way that would be above reproach? Or are all reprisals reproachable?

Further searches found that the "godless" are above the "godly". That's certainly how it seems in our world today.

Here's another humorous juxtaposition. "."Water buffalo is under "water". Somebody better rescue that poor animal before it drowns.

I  also discovered that "zest" is below "zero". No wonder skiing and other winter sports are so popular.

A "Break-in" is after "breakfast". Somebody better tell the police that. It would help them greatly to know when the crooks will commit their crimes.

In addition to this type of fun, you can look at the headings at the top of adjacent pages and come up with interesting or humorous writing prompts. In my dictionary, I found "plutocrat" and "poker" as headings. It's easy to in visage how a few rich and powerful characters could gamble with a business venture to oppose other rich and powerful players.

My favourite heading combination is "morbid" "mother-in-law". A wide range of stories could be inspired by that combination of headings. The mother-in-law could be living with a married couple and continually warns them about risks to their lives. Or she might live alone but be calling her son or daughter with dire predictions.

I also composed an electronic music tune and called it "Discursive Disparity" after the heading words on one dictionary page. Sadly, nobody has remarked about what a clever title it is to me.

If you ever find yourself in a creative dry spell, try exploring your dictionary. Inspiration might strike when you least expect it.


August 26, 2015

Dammed but Still Writing by Marnie Pohlmann

Whoever called a writer’s inability to fill the blank paper a “writer’s block” could not have been a true writer. We all know how our teeth clench, sweat pours, brows furrow, and fingers cramp when we stare at empty white paper but cannot seem to form letters to make words that blend into sentences and form a coherent thought. We panic, pace, fret, and fume. That is no small, simple block; it is an enormous dam stopping the flow of creativity!

I live in the Peace Region, where BC Hydro is beginning to build another dam. There are many protesters against such construction (some say destruction), and there are many proponents who look forward to positive economic impact. The conflict reminds me there are also both good and bad aspects to a writer’s dam. On the one hand, the dam controls the flow of ideas, so at times our stream of words seems dried up, while at other times words gush forth. 

Of course, inspiration may spray when we have the least time to enjoy it, and drought often happens when a deadline looms. However, creativity has not actually dried up. The ideas are not lost; they are stored in a reservoir above the dam. We can fret downstream waiting for the dam to open, or we can climb around the bank to play in the pool above. Or, we can chip away at the blockage to help a little rivulet pour through the dike by using the following tools.

The Reservoir above Williston Lake Dam near Hudson Hope, BC
Blank paper that causes panic might also provide comfort. Sometimes just touching new stationery stirs our inner Shakespeare, so wander the aisles of a stationery store, caressing notebooks and inhaling the scent of new pens. (If I am the only one who does this, please ignore that sentence and do not, I repeat, do not call the people with the white self-hugging jacket!)

Hardware stores also provide encouragement. They let us take home paint chips - free - to supply a river of inspiration! Not only are they wonderful colours, but there are names to those colours (How do I get that job?) Sometimes there are even emotions affiliated with each shade. Mix and match features from a couple cards to start writing in unusual directions. (The wistful ginger moon...)

Leave the computer keyboard and return to the basics of pen on paper. The physical act of forming cursive letters moves us into a slow growing creative space. As the wall begins to shake, mud and flotsam may begin to flow along with the ink, but it is a start.

Try a silent protest at the dam. Go to that white paper and vandalize the clean lines with simple graffiti. Yes, write the alphabet at the top of the page! The letters may lead toward poetry, or alliteration.

The common exercise of “free writing” without lifting pen from paper for five minutes seems to work for many writers, who use it to clear away the debris of the day. Content does not matter; the point is to activate the “brain memory” of writing; to unblock the sludge preventing the flow of clear creativity. Sometimes a gem is found in the thick mud. The leak may be small, but have faith in forward movement.

Or begin with just one word. Write synonyms, antonyms, descriptors, actions, and ideas from that word to create a spider web of interconnected thoughts. Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico calls this “clustering.” One grouping of words may inspire a direction, or show a path around your writer’s dam to where the ideas pool. There you can splash around a bit, playing in the words.

When deciding on even one word is too much, collect a bag of odds and ends to choose from as a starter. A key, penny, bookmark, toothbrush, or any little everyday household item can lead to a memory, a short story, or a meditation from Scripture. 

Other times, the tactile feel of letters can bring us to our (creative) senses. Pull out the dice from Scattegories© or letters from Scrabble© to feel a word, though occasionally we might still stumble over the blank.

Writers can play despite standing at the dam. Eventually we will return to the computer to type our thoughts for later editing. Much like water flowing over the dam generates energy used to light our homes, these exercises may help flood us with new energy that breaks through any word-logjam.

God told Joshua, "I have called you to this. Do not fear. Be Courageous. Tread softly for a while, then make a loud fuss, and the wall will come down." (Joshua 6 - Pohlmann Paraphrase)

August 25, 2015

Silence of the Mind by Vickie Stam

Have you ever opened the refrigerator door only to find yourself drawing a blank? You stand there and study its contents without the faintest idea what you were looking for? It usually only takes a moment to remember though. It might be that you simply glanced back at your kitchen table or to the counter next to the fridge where you suddenly see your coffee mug sitting there. It's just waiting for you to add that delicious hazelnut cream you love so much. You chuckle inside as you pour the cream. 

And sometimes there is no explanation at all for the things which suddenly steal our train of thought. Still, I think it's safe to say that this is something that happens to all of us at one time or another. But when it comes to writer's block, that is something that can last for more than just a fleeting moment and it can leave a writer feeling very frustrated.  

If you're anything like me, you might find yourself searching through your beloved sticky notes, reading over the words you scribbled down on paper last week or even yesterday. Maybe you find yourself reading your story over and over in a desperate attempt to find the one clue that will leap from the pages like a beacon in the dark putting you back into the writer's seat once again. 

But in those times when I just can't find the words, my first instinct is to try a change of venue. Write in a different place. I tuck my lap-top in my book bag and drive to the library where I find a quiet corner and hope the distractions of life's daily events at home have been the true culprit behind my writer's block. 

If this change fails to produce even a morsel of fruit, then I know I need to let the story sit idle for a while. Take a much needed rest.  

But I must confess, that when that time comes I wince from the agony of leaving it alone. I wonder when my story will go on to reach its highest peak; the point where it seems it could almost touch the sky. I look it over one last time hoping I can breathe just a few more words so I can dance with joy when I conquer the silence.       


August 24, 2015

When the Words Don't Line Up - by Tandy Balson

Most of the writing I do is short meditations/devotions or creative nonfiction.  Everyday life gives me inspiration for my topics.  Even so, the words are not always there when I want them.  Sometimes the seed of an idea needs time to mature and blossom into something I can write about.  There doesn’t seem to be an effective way to rush this process.

I’ve only been writing seriously for a little over three years.  When I started, my husband encouraged me to take pictures of anything that interested me.  He said that I may not know what to do with them right away but they may be useful prompts down the road.  How right he was!

More than once I have scrolled through the file of pictures on my computer and gained inspiration for one of my stories.  I like to add a picture to my blog posts and find my cache of pictures often fills this need as well.

That being said, things don’t always line up the way I’d like.  An initial idea may be there along with a few good thoughts to go with it.  The challenge is often the ability to word things in a way that points the reader to a closer relationship with the Lord of the universe.

At times like this, I’ve learned to save my work as a draft and put it aside.  When the timing is right, the Lord will give me the words he wants me to use.  I must always remember that it is not my words I want to share, but his.  They should be as a prayer that glorifies him.

Recently I discovered a prayer written early in the last century that sums up my feelings.   Unfortunately the author is unknown.

“Lord of the universe, how I wish I had the words to fashion beautiful prayers to praise Thee!  But alas, I cannot find these words.  So listen to me O God, as I recite the letters of the alphabet.  You know what I think and how I feel.  Take these letters of the alphabet and YOU form the words that express the yearning, the love for Thee in my heart!”  

August 23, 2015

Time to refresh by Lynn J Simpson

"I look out the window
The birds are composing
Not a note is out of tune
Or out of place"
Jon Foreman, Your Love is Strong

I watch her fly, her wings that flutter, her belly that drops toward the water, and clawed feet that land and grip to the twig anchored to a birch tree that roots in wild grasses of the river's bank.

Effortless, easy; flawless and free, her beak pointing up toward an abundant sky,  I wait and watch to see what her next move will be. Does she think before she moves, or waits until a wisp of wind is felt under her wing, or a sound that startles her sensitive ears?

What will make her move? But then I ponder. Does it matter what makes her fly again, as all is in perfect harmony, in His perfect plan? Is what matters is that she waits, on that branch that seems like it has been set in that place just for her, in this moment, to be in an alertness of rest? An alertness of rest that senses in spirit, in seeing, in smell, taste and hearing, when to move again?

I shift on the rock where I sit, the river flowing inches in front of me. I lean forward, slip a cool hand into shallow waters slipping over rocks. Effortless, easy; flawless and free the river water flows over my still hand braced on pebble laced sand. My hand soothed and refreshed in waters that flow and journey.

A vision enters my mind, but does not disturb. A woman at a well. And He speaks.

 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13

My hand moves in the river water. It cups and fills and raises inches above the river, and lets water flow out between opening fingers. It dips into waters again, fills, and raises, and lets waters flow out, only to be filled again with a movement back into waters that endlessly flows over still rocks.

Effortless, easy; flawless and free the river flows. And waters flow through a refreshed hand, through fingers moved, opened in receiving and retrieving.

A gentle wind grazes my neck, brushes away a wisp of hair that journeyed over an eye. I look up, across the river. The twig has emptied of her.

She has moved on.

I stand, turn to the path that leads my next moment, my next thought, my next journey and words. River waters grace my ears. A cool but water refreshed hand tucks loose hair behind my ear.  And I take a step.

August 22, 2015

A Poignant Summer Memorial by Alan Anderson

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. (Psalm 71:9 NIV)

Last month I wrote what I hope was a rather humorous post about my battle with summer heat. That battle continues by the way! This month I turn a corner and go from humour to a poignant account of people I have come alongside through the calling God has given me.

This blog post is partially composed of a snippet of a writing project I am working on. I present it here as a memorial and tribute to those I have the privilege of learning from in the end of life context I work in. I find real joy in my profession as a spiritual care practitioner in a healthcare setting.

For the most part the people I come alongside are frail elderly people and in need of constant care of one kind or another. They experience situations of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual vulnerability on a daily basis. Staff and those of us in leadership positions love them. We grieve for them and miss them when they pass away.

Here is my memorial and tribute to the people I have the privilege of gleaning lessons from and are never far from my writing. In this account taken from a real life situation I am trying to capture the essence of the nature of my calling. They may be frail elderly people and they are also my teachers! They inspire me as a writer I seek to honour them in keeping with God’s Word.

I entered the room minutes after the old gentleman breathed his last. The room felt so still. His wife stood by his bed and simply stated, "he died just a few minutes ago". She then said in a quiet voice, "He's at peace now!"

It was such a tender and sacred moment. She held something tightly in her hands and I saw it was his Bible. She said that his Bible was to go in his coffin with him along with his favorite stuffed animal, a teddy bear. She said he would like that!

This lady now a new widow seemed almost emotionless as she left the room. She looked so fragile as if at any second she would break. I helped her carry some of his belongings and personal effects down the hallway. A taxi was waiting outside. The driver greeted her with a smile and "how are you today?" She got into the cab without saying a word and waved to me as the taxi took her away.

She was going home to make necessary arrangements. Family had to be called. Meetings with the funeral director would be in her very near future. I remember what was so important to her as she readied to say goodbye to her husband. She wanted to make sure that when he was placed in his casket he wouldn't be alone. His Bible and his teddy bear would be with him!

August 21, 2015

Busy as a Beaver .... by Jocelyn Faire

In this world you will have troubles ...

Almost every negative has a positive side. Can this be true of writer's block?

Biking along the Legacy Trail, a pathway that follows the Trans-Canada highway from Canmore to Banff, my high achieving sister leads the way. She is always busy, always productive. Busy as a beaver, with enough letters behind her name to spare a few for me. Many times I feel un-productive beside her.

I'd been mulling over the writer's block issue knowing I needed to pre-post before the two of us join a trip to the Yukon. I called out to say, “I have to stop.” To our right a well built beaver dam approximately ten feet high, had effectively stopped the creek, vibrant green grass lay below and the still pond above reflected the surrounding trees. “That is a picture of writer's block” I said, hoping to catch it with my camera. Cyclists stopped to see what we were snapping, hoping for wild-life? “It's a beaver's dam.” I said.

“Oh, just a dam?” I noticed a man on foot, with a telephoto lens attached to his camera. Turns out he has been watching and photographing this dam for years, in summer he comes daily to view the progress. He pointed out the recent construction to us, as well as the beaver's hidden lodge. “A beaver family lives in this pond. Just below that new white log is their entrance.” He points, “If you watch closely, you can see the ripples of their movement. There, there goes one now.” I wanted to see it, but all I saw were the water wrinkles. The culprits are invisible, but the evidence is damming.(couldn't resist the pun!)

So what does the Dam of a Beaver have to do with a writer's block?

Writer's Block—what is it?

A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing

Temporary or not, the words like water, are not flowing.

When I got home, still reflecting on the powerful damage of the little rodent, I was compelled to look a little further. Google to the rescue.

The beaver's teeth never stop growing. Their dental care plan is simple—keep gnawing at trees; perhaps the writer's take is to keep on writing.

The more exciting find resulted from a three year research project examining ecosystems in the Colorado River: a busy beaver's dam work is felt downstream in a major way.

According to the study:

Beavers are well known for creating large pond-like areas upstream from their dams, but scientists have found that the construction projects also spread water downstream with the efficiency of a massive once-every-200-years flood ... beaver dams force water out of the natural stream channel and spread it across and down the valley for hundreds of yards.

"We found that upstream ponds were not the main hydrologic effect of the [beaver] dams in the Colorado River valley," said study co-author Cherie Westbrook. "Instead, the beaver dams greatly enhance hydrologic processes during the peak-flow and low-flow periods, suggesting that beavers can create and maintain environments suitable for the formation and persistence of wetlands."
(Beaver Dams:

I re-read the report. When God does something in nature there is always more to it, than meets the ordinary eye, usually my eye. My initial response is not always the correct assumption, I need to go deeper. The power of the beaver dam is to block off the water, but this report suggests that there can be a positive impact on the environment beyond the blockage in the way that the water seeps through to nurture roots. Perhaps the season of writer's block can be used to water the soul in different ways. The slow seepage of water does more for the roots than a quickly passing stream. God wants to nurture my roots in a dry spell.

"In this world you will have troubles, but take heart I have overcome the world.” (Jesus) John 16:33


Jocelyn writes (briefly in summer) at her blog: 
She is the author of a grief book, Who is Talking out Of My Head/Grief as an Out of Body Experience